Viewpoint

Civilians shouldn’t have to de-escalate police

A Knoxville police officer pulled a gun on Jameson while she was changing the license plate on a car she bought.
A Knoxville police officer pulled a gun on Jameson while she was changing the license plate on a car she bought. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Thank you to my friends and people throughout the country who have reached out to show support in the wake of my potentially tragic encounter with Knoxville Officer Matthew Janish. I also thank Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch for coming to Charlotte to explain the decision not to discipline Officer Janish and answer my questions. I am disappointed, but not surprised. The system is broken.

On May 3, I was confronted at gunpoint by Officer Janish while I was putting a license plate on an SUV that I purchased from his mother-in-law the previous week. The incident occurred in her driveway, which is across the street from Officer Janish’s home. Janish, who was off-duty, thought I was stealing the truck. After investigating, Knoxville Police determined that Officer Janish’s actions were “lawful and proper.”

My case is another example of how the system is broken. Although my encounter didn’t end tragically, it could have, as all too many have (Philando Castile, Walter Scott, Michael Brown and others), and his actions likely would have still been deemed “lawful and proper.”

Jameson
Jameson TODD SUMLIN tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com

The system is designed to exonerate police officers, not provide justice for their victims. My incident, however, gives me new insight into just how much the law values police lives over the citizens they are supposed to protect.

Chief Rausch said that when investigating complaints, it is essential to understand an officer’s mindset to determine the facts. A mindset is not a fact.

Knoxville Police are looking into an officer’s actions after a Charlotte woman said the off-duty officer pulled a gun on her as she changed a license plate on her newly purchased SUV Tonya Jameson, 45, is a former Charlotte Observer reporter and c

Here are the facts that Janish appeared to focus on – the unmarked cab, a black person, the duffel bag and the license plate.

Then here are other facts that he ignored – he knew his mother-in-law was selling the car, it was broad daylight, and I knew her first name, but not her last name. I offered to show him the keys, registration and bill of sale signed by his mother-in-law.

Those are the actual facts. Officer Janish’s mindset was the scenario he created in his head. His fears weren’t facts.

The moment I arrived at Officer Janish’s mother-in-law’s house I became a suspect, and under the law, it seems that Officer Janish became a victim. He could have stayed at his house, called 911 and waited for the sheriff’s department to arrive. Instead he grabbed his weapon and came outside to confront me.

Had I not reacted calmly, Officer Janish likely would have been within his legal rights to shoot me although I wasn’t doing anything illegal. My mere presence with a duffel bag was deemed a threat.

In her statement, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero talked about the extensive training officers receive in appropriate use of force and de-escalation. Asking common-sense questions, before unholstering a weapon, should also be included in police training.

I’m sure the situation looked questionable from Officer Janish’s house, but it warranted the question “what are you doing?” That’s exercising common sense. That’s de-escalation.

During his visit, Chief Rausch talked about lessons learned. I didn’t overreact. I didn’t get angry. So, I survived. He said my behavior is how everyone should act in those situations – comply, survive and complain later. But, it’s not natural to be accused of doing something wrong and not prove your innocence.

I wanted to show him the keys or reach into my bag for the registration and bill of sale. I fought every impulse to do anything that would make him feel threatened. I don’t have de-escalation training. I’m the one being held at gunpoint. I’m the one thinking my life could end if he panics. Yet, I’m the one expected to remain calm.

It seems that the legal system is really asking civilians to de-escalate adrenaline-fueled cops. We must remain calm while facing a loaded gun while the trained officers can panic and overreact.

What about our lives? Who protects us from the people who are supposed to protect us?

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